March 13, 2014 00:00 By CHANIKARN PHUMHIRAN, NAKARIN
PM faces second impeachment risk after unanimous charter court verdict; property sector sees move as a setback
THE GOVERNMENT’S Bt2-trillion borrowing bill for infrastructure projects, including high-speed railway, was yesterday unanimously ruled unconstitutional by the charter court in a much-awaited verdict, making the entire caretaker Cabinet and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra liable to impeachment.
The verdict brings the second impeachment risk for Yingluck after the National Anti-Corruption Commission decided to press charge of negligence in the controversial rice-pledging scheme against her. If Yingluck is found guilty of dereliction, the NACC will forward her case to the Senate for impeachment.
The Constitutional Court voted 9-0 to rule the content of the bill unconstitutional, while there was a 6-2 vote with one judge abstaining over the bill being passed in procedural violation of the charter following coalition MPs voting with others’ identity cards.
The court ruled the entire bill unconstitutional, saying the main content violated Article 154 (3) of the charter.
Former Democrat Party MP Wiratana Kalayasiri, a party legal adviser who lodged a petition against the bill with the charter court, said that he would pursue the impeachment of Yingluck and her Cabinet. He thanked the judiciary for foreseeing the bad effects that would have been brought by the bill, and saving Thailand from being indebted with loans for 50 years or longer.
The verdict is a major blow to the caretaker administration, which has been engulfed with several legal and political setbacks, while serving as a boost for the anti-government movement. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee crowd at Lumpini Park cheered and jeered loudly when news about the verdict was read out to them by rally leaders on-stage.
Yingluck, speaking on a tour in Chaiyaphum yesterday, said she deplored the verdict against the Bt2-trillion bill, saying the government had done what it could to develop the country’s connectivity and infrastructure to compete with other countries in the region. She said she hoped that the next or future governments would carry out the projects. “It’s an opportunity to every Thai, not just to a government,” she said. Asked if she felt she was treated unfairly, Yingluck turned away and walked up to meet with a group of supporters.
Before interacting with the media, Yingluck had lunch with Cabinet members and provincial authorities. She appeared tense after learning of the verdict and was seen in discussions with two Cabinet members.
Core leader Satit Wongnongtaey said the Yingluck Cabinet would need to step down even as a caretaker government, especially as the rejected bill was a monetary legislation that subjected any government to an extra burden of political responsibility.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said Yingluck should quit, and keep a commitment made earlier by her own deputy, Phongthep Thepkanjana, who had said Yingluck would need to show responsibility “in one away or another” if the bill pushed by the Pheu Thai-led government was ruled unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) vice president Tanit Sorat took the court decision in his stride, saying there would be less worry about the country’s public debt levels.
However, caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said yesterday the Bt2-trillion loan to finance infrastructure projects would have increased the country’s competitiveness and pushed 3 per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP).
Writing on his Facebook page yesterday, Kittiratt said the past 10 years had seen a sharp drop in investment in Thailand to 20-23 per cent of GDP, compared to 35-42 per cent of GDP before 1997. The low investment would make the country less competitive.
The property sector is expected to be impacted the most by the court verdict as they had speculated on some plots of land. Some developers said they would slow down their investments.
Chakporn Oojitt, executive director of Construction Institute of Thailand, said the ruling would impact the property developers most. Many operators had already bought plots of land along the areas where they had speculated the high-speed train lines would pass.
“We don’t think this will impact much the country’s economic growth, as the investment budget of Bt2 trillion, over seven years – Bt300 billion a year – had not yet been factored in in the GDP forecast,” he said.
Yongsit Rojsrikul, governor of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority, said the construction of electric trains could go ahead, but not all 10 lines could be completed in seven years as scheduled. The construction plan might be altered due to limited budget. “It may take some 15 years to complete the construction of all lines.”
Prapas Chongsanguan, governor of the State Railway of Thailand, said that due to the court verdict, the authority was not able to go ahead with improving the double-track railway system under the Bt1.2-trillion project as planned. Thailand’s railway system is now lagging behind that of Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.
“Under the normal fiscal budget, the development of the Thai railway system would take more than 20 years instead of just seven,” he said.